The scariest part about having my son wasn’t his delivery… it was figuring out what did and didn’t work for us when traveling! My packing philosophy is simple: less is more. I travel alone with my son frequently, so fewer bags are easier to manage on my own, saves me money in checked bag fees, and gives me greater peace of mind knowing that I have everything I need without going overboard. I hope this list helps you feel prepared and confident!
1. Start “packing” early.
I usually start thinking about what to pack two or three days before a trip because “Mom Brain” is a real phenomenon and I absolutely hate forgetting stuff! I start a pile in the guest room of the things I want to take, might want to take, and need to take. The day before we actually travel, I edit this down accordingly so everything fits nicely in our bags.
2. Packing cubes are your new best friend.
These don’t have to be fancy or expensive and I honestly never used them until I had my son. I have at least two dozen of these ridiculously simple bags, most of them are mesh with zip closures. I use these to organize our clothing, toiletries, snacks, electronics, toys, everything. T.J. Maxx has a wonderful selection and they’re usually less than $10.
3. Two or three jammies are enough.
I am obsessed with baby pajamas and always have a hard time editing this one down. I bring two or three pajama sets no matter how long the trip is. If there are leaks, you can always hand wash in the sink with soap and water, bring laundry to whomever’s home you’re visiting (if applicable), or buy a cheap set while traveling just to make it through.
4. Pack a “seatback pocket bag” for you and baby in case of blowouts and spit-up.
Listen, it’s not a matter of if, but when your baby will have a blowout or spit-up all over the place. The best remedy is simply being prepared. So I pack two extra outfits for baby, a clean shirt for me, with two or three diapers and a pack of travel baby wipes in a large ziplock bag. Add a burp cloth if there’s room. Pack it in an easily accessible pocket so you can quickly stash it in the seatback pocket on the plane and have everything you need in a hurry when the bodily fluids start flowing.
6. My game-changing rule of thumb for packing diapers in my carry-on.
I simply pack one diaper per flight hour in my carry-on bag (ex: the flight to Denver is two hours, so that’s two diapers), with three or four extras as backup. I always stash the diapers I’ll need for the actual trip itself in the checked carseat bag.
The worst place to be without extra diapers is an airport. And no doubt if you run out, that’ll be the day your baby decides to poop projectile liquid. If you do happen to run out of diapers, hang out by the family restroom or make friends with another mom. We’re in this together! I like to put a handful of extra diapers in the carseat bag for peace of mind.
Trust your gut with this one. You know roughly how many diapers your baby needs for a day, so pack that plus a few extra, and you’ll be golden.
5. Pack enough food, clothing, and diapers for one extra day of travel.
I work in the aviation industry and have seen some crazy things happen, (*especially post-2020 with staffing shortages everywhere leading to an increase in delays and cancellations). Don’t be ill-prepared, simply pack for one extra day so you have a backup plan if things go awry.
6. Slow down, Doctor Mom, just pack the Tylenol and Gripe Water.
These are my only two medicinal necessities with my son. Something to curb the fever when he’s teething and something to calm his tummy and keep things moving. Any medicines that are a part of your baby’s regular routine, bring those.
7. Food and drink items for your baby are exempt from TSA liquid rules.
Hallelujah! Don’t waste any time measuring liquids into travel-size containers or purchasing extra-small foods and drinks. Think water for formula, any liquid medicines, breastmilk, pureed foods, and so on are all exempt “in reasonable quantities” when traveling with a baby. (Pssst, check out this other blog post about breezing through TSA with your baby!)
8. Random objects on the plane will be far more entertaining than toys from home.
I do like to pack one or two of his favorite toys or a small stuffed animal, his banana teether, and a touch-and-feel book. However. Your baby will be mesmerized by empty plastic cups, cellophane wrapping from in-flight snacks, and the satisfying “click” of your seatbelt. The simple experience of being in a new environment will likely be all the entertainment they need, so don’t overcomplicate your toy selection.
9. Download apps to your phone or tablet that eliminate the hassle of packing sound machines and baby monitors.
I use the Better Sleep app (formerly Sleep Melodies) as a sound machine if we’re co-sleeping. The app is free and has tons of sound mixing options. I use Baby Monitor 3G as a baby monitor when baby has his own sleep space. The app costs $5, but has built-in sound machine offerings, audio and video capabilities, and keeps a log of baby’s activity.
10. Don’t forget the cozy (non-sentimental) blanket.
I’ve seen so many baby blankets in lost and found at the airport that never get recovered, despite my best efforts to track down the family, and it makes me so sad. Please don’t bring the blanket that your grandma knitted for your baby; stuff like that is far too precious. For my son, we have a designated Tula travel blanket that we use for tummy time on layovers, as a comfort buffer between my seatbelt buckle and his body, as a swaddle, as a blanket (duh), and as a cover when breastfeeding. The Tula blankets are super soft, compact nicely, and wow do they have a great selection of colors and patterns.
11. I hate dealing with the carseat, so here are a few ideas for you to ponder for your own trip.
We have an extra carseat so I don’t have to do any extra thinking on travel day of uninstalling/reinstalling the carseat. Don’t panic if you don’t have an extra seat because there are plenty of alternatives. 1. You can book a carseat when you make your rental car reservation. Most carseat rentals are $8-$12/day. 2. You can borrow an extra one from a friend. 3. You can try Baby Quip, a baby gear rental company with over 650 locations around the world. I’ve personally never used the service, but I love the idea. 4. You can purchase a Cosco Scenera Next (they’re only $50, lightweight, and FAA approved for use in-flight). The size requirements for this carseat are Rear Facing 5-40 pounds and 19” – 40”, and Forward Facing at 22-40 pounds and 29” to 43”, per the Cosco website. Or 5., just uninstall your carseat in the airport parking lot. That is hardly the end of the world!
FYI: if you check your carseat to your final destination and it doesn’t arrive when you do, find the agent working in the baggage service office for your airline. They will provide you with a free replacement in the interim until your carseat arrives and will cover the delivery cost of the carseat too.
The fewer bags I have with me while in transit, the more intact my brain. Above all else, don’t forget to have fun when traveling with your baby! Showing them new places is the most wonderful gift. Don’t ever let the fear of flying with your baby scare you away from the beautiful memories and experiences waiting for you. You can do this!